Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

The best laid plans of mice and men,
oft go awry
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy

On Sunday morning, I was joined by Mark and Mike.  We hiked approximately 5 miles in the morning, stopping for lunch at Smith Gap.  After a decent break, we continued on to Delps Trail.  Before beginning the hike that day, I had applied moleskin to my big toes as I had started to develop blisters.  What was intended for prophylactic treatment, though, would end up causing significant trouble later on... but more about that in a minute. Mark and I bid Mike farewell when we reached Delps Trail and we continued on into the state game lands.  We had an exceedingly difficult time finding a campsite in the game lands, but after a long search and some guidance from a couple of thru hikers, we were able to find a large, though less than ideal place to pitch our tents for the night. We prepared our dinners and ate, then called home and turned in for the night.  We slept somewhat fitfully and rose early on Monday morning.  
I took a closer look at my foot in the morning sunlight and discovered that a significant blister had formed under my second toenail from rubbing against the moleskin that I had placed on my big toe to prevent blisters from forming there.  The blister had affected the nail bed, which increased the risk of infection exponentially.  I found myself in a bit of a pickle.  If I didn't try to drain the blister, the pressure from the fluid could cause more damage and infection to the nail bed, but at the same time, if I did drain it, I would be creating an environment for infection by opening a wound.  With 10 miles of difficult trail ahead, I decided to go ahead and drain, then dress the blister.  
Mark and I left camp around 9. We descended into Little Gap crossing several boulder fields in the process.  The ascent on the opposite side was over smaller rocks, which are more troublesome for my feet.  We reached the ridge line and enjoyed 360 degree views of Palmerton and the surrounding area for several miles.  Continuing on, we traveled on a grassy road through the Superfund project site on Blue Mountain.  It was amazing to me how much the vegetation is still being impacted by the Zinc pollution.  Grasses are growing and small shrubs, but the trees are all dead.  As we turned the corner of the mountain, we observed a spectacular view of  the Lehigh River 1500 ft below.  We walked on and the trail became rocky once more.  We were now approaching the bald faced descent into the Lehigh Gap!  We crossed 3 or 4 boulder fields and came to the crest of the mountain.  We climbed up the boulders and found ourselves faced with an extremely steep descent.  It was difficult to see where we needed to go.  I stowed my poles and we looked to see where the blazes were leading us.  We dropped about 20 ft and then were faced with a problem.  We were on a cliff and could not see how to get to the next place that offered level terrain.  The drop was approximately 20-25 ft, but a misplaced hand or foot resulting in a fall would cause at the very least a broken leg or two, and at worst... well, let's not think too much on that...  Mark had the idea to lower our packs by rope and see if we could figure out a way down without being hampered by the extra 40lbs that we were both carrying.  I found a blaze to the side of where we were standing.  There was a rock that provided a decent enough hand hold, but it took a few moments before I found a good foothold.  I'm not really much of a rock climber, and am not all that keen on heights, but what choice did we have?  We took it slow, moving one hand and one foot at a time, making sure that we were stable before making the next move, and miraculously, we reached the next plateau.   From there, we had a few other instances that required some rock climbing skills, but nothing as extreme as that vertical rock face.  I had known the descent into the Lehigh Gap would be difficult, but I never Imagined that it would require scaling down 25ft of vertical rock!  I was so glad to have Mark with me! 

We finished our descent into the Lehigh Gap and found Scott and Anne waiting for us.  My feet were on fire from all of the rocks that we traversed!  Not to mention my legs and arms that were beginning to become stiff from the climbing escapade...  Anne and Scott treated us to dinner in town and then Scott and I returned to the west side of the Lehigh Gap.  We traveled uphill for about half a mile, found a campsite and began settling in for the night.  We made a small campfire and enjoyed a few snickers bars and good conversation before heading to bed around 10pm.  That night, I decided that I would need to come off for a day or so to tend to my feet, which now hurt with every step.  
We woke on Tuesday morning early and began to climb Blue Mountain again.  It was cloudy, and threatened to rain.  Our plan was to take the North Trail which goes right over the Lehigh Tunnel of the turnpike and offers some spectacular views.  When we reached our first overlook at Devil's Pulpit, we felt our first raindrops.  Within a few minutes it was raining steadily, and after a few moments more, we heard some thunder.  We knew that we would be traveling on an open ridge-line for several miles and had to decide whether to turn back or risk being stuck on a ridge in the middle of a thunderstorm.  We decided to turn back.  It was only two miles to the bottom of the mountain, and we were able to communicate our new location to Denise who would be picking us up.  We reached the bottom of the mountain in relatively short order, careful not to slip on the wet rocks, and awaited her arrival.  By the time we reached the bottom, the clouds had cleared and the sun was shining.  It turned out to be a very pleasant morning and as much as it killed me to have given up so soon because of the weather, I think it was the right decision to make.  Thunderstorms often times hang on the mountains or along the rivers, and we had both to contend with...  

Denise dropped me at Kim and Ricky's home in Hellertown where I planned to take a day off before returning to the trail.  The blister on my second toe had now become pretty painful and I was really starting to worry about infection.  I decided to try and treat it topically on Tuesday night, resigning myself to seek more advanced medical attention if it did not improve with conservative treatment in the next 12 hours.  That night, the nail detached form the bed and in the morning, I lost it completely.  Once I lost the nail, it was clear that the infection was more significant than I had thought.  I drove to an urgent care center in Hellertown and filled a prescription for antibiotics.  
I started treating immediately as I knew Sports Unlimited would be coming on Friday and there was no way that I was going to miss that!  Thursday evening, Kim, Ricky and I left for the trail.  We camped in the state game lands, just beyond the boundary to the Hamburg Water Shed.  I did my best to allow the toe to air out, but I also came to find that in doing so, it was extremely difficult to keep it clean.  I had to scrub dirt out of the wound several times that evening.  
In the morning, I padded and protected the toe as best as I could.  I knew my pace would be a little slower than normal, but hoped that the folks from SU would understand.  They arrived full of energy and ready to roll at 8:30.  I allowed those who wished to walk more quickly to take the lead and I brought up the rear with Nancy and a few others.  We reached the Pinnacle an hour ahead of schedule and took a decently long lunch break before continuing on.  The second half of the hike was a little more challenging.  The path was more narrow and rocky and we had a couple of boulder fields to traverse.  We reached Pulpit rock around 1:45 and enjoyed a break during which time we discovered a copperhead sunning itself in a crevasse in the rocks.  It was a little smaller than I expected, but I was glad to have seen it and been able to identify it as a young adult snake.  We snapped a picture or two well out of harms way and then completed our descent down the mountain.  It was a great day, and I was glad to meet such an awesome group of people.  They departed around 3:30pm and I waited with Kim and Ricky for Jean and Drew to arrive with a food drop.  
As we sat, I realized how sore my toes had become during the day's hike.  When Drew and Jean arrived, I asked Drew if he could offer his opinion as he is a very experienced hiker.  He told me that I needed at least 3 days off the trail with the toe completely exposed to air.  I knew in my head that he was right... but it was really disheartening to hear.  This was not how I had planned things to go, and I certainly hadn't expected to have this trouble so early on.  Then, something really amazing happened, Drew asked me if he could take the next 30 miles and hike them for me.  He asked if I would pass the baton to him for a short time so that I could heal, but the hike could continue on.  Gratefully, I said yes!  As hard as it was for me to come off, even for a short time, I felt so much better doing so, knowing that someone else was carrying the torch for the time that I was recovering.  So as I'm writing tonight, I'm doing so from home, rather than the trail.  Drew finished all 30 miles in less than 24 hours, and now I'm able to allow my toe to have some healing time!   It was such a blessing that he was the one joining me on Friday night!! Now the hike truly has become a team effort!  I'm hopeful that by Tuesday, I will be ready to return, and hope that the foot issues will be behind me for the remainder of the hike.  
It's been an emotional couple of days, but I also see that God is at work, encouraging more and more people to be involved in the mission to find a cure for Nathan and Bennett.  Drew carried the torch for a little while, and others are stepping up to the plate and offering to carry it as well.  I've come to realize that I had become a little too attached to the plans that I had made around the hike and that my plans may not have aligned with God's plan.  He's prodding me to let go of my plans and instead to follow his plan, which I know ultimately is the better plan.  It's difficult to do, but in going forward, I will be listening much more carefully for His leading.  Sometimes an injury provides us with the piece of humble pie that we need to take a bite of in order to get out of God's way.  While 'the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry', God's plan is steadfast and perfect.  When we follow His plan, instead of our own, we find  all the peace, fulfillment and joy that we could hope for.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Ripple Effect Grows

 The hike began with gorgeous weather, good company and a beautiful prayer offered by my friend Ricky, pastor at St. Paul UMC in Hellertown.  Sarah, Jeff, Scott and I then began our 7 mile trek through the beautiful Delaware Water Gap.  We saw a couple of vistas, and stopped in the power line clearing at Totts gap for lunch before continuing on to Fox Gap.  We reached Fox Gap and enjoyed a few pictures, some down time and then the three of them departed and I continued on to find a campsite for the night.  That was the trickiest part of the day.  I had taken a blue blazed detour around Wolf rocks, having turned an ankle early in the day, but the detour took me 1.5 miles out of my way.  I rejoined the AT nearly an hour and a half later and began to feel a bit of panic set in as it was now 5pm and I still had to find somewhere to camp, set up and cook dinner before darkness set in.  I quickened my pace and came upon a thru hiker who told me that there was a site not too far ahead.  I thanked him and went on my way.  After 15 minutes more at a quick pace, I still had not found a place, but came across another thru hiker.  I asked him if there were any campsites coming up.  He assured me that there was  one, 10 minutes down the trail.  I thanked him and went on my way.  I'd gone about 50 paces when I suddenly saw a site nestled in the trees.  I immediately went off trail to take a closer look and found that it would suit perfectly.  That day I learned that when hiking, 10 minutes to one person could be 30 to another.  Time and distance just don't matter as much.

As I nervously lay in my tent that first night, I thought on the 23rd Psalm.  I slept fitfully and rose around 5am the next morning, packed up camp, ate breakfast and began day two of my journey.  Saturday was a much more difficult day.  I was flying solo, had slept poorly for two nights and had some ground to make up already, having been behind when I made camp on Friday night.  I set off at a comfortable pace and soon found that I was treading on one of the rockiest footpaths I've ever seen.  For 6 miles I walked on nothing but jagged rock after jagged rock.  After 4 miles of that, I had a minor melt down.  My feet hurt and it felt like I might be getting some blisters; I was tired, and I hadn't seen another hiker all morning.  It was definitely a low point!  Over those final two miles leading into Wind Gap, I remember thinking over and over again, "why on earth are you doing this?"  I descended steeply into the gap and stopped for an extended lunch.  After I ate, I spent a great deal of time meditating on the scriptures and praying.

With a heavy and discouraged heart, I began the steep climb up the west side of Wind Gap.  On the way up, I passed by two hikers-father and son- who were resting.  We exchanged a few words and I moved past them.  Not too long after, I was taking a break and the two of them came and passed by me.  We exchanged greetings again and chatted a little bit about our destinations.  We found out that we were headed for the same destination - Leroy Smith Shelter.  We exchanged positions periodically throughout the afternoon and I really enjoyed hearing some of their stories.  David, the father - a retired teacher- was a seasoned hiker and had lots of stories from the trail.  His son Stuart was also an experienced hiker.  We arrived at the shelter around 6pm.  David and Stu went to get water at a nearby stream.  Having filled up in Wind Gap, I began boiling water to make my dinner.

Two thru hikers were enjoying their dinner at the shelter but were staying at a nearby campsite for the evening. They were a couple from Alabama who had been on the trail since April 3rd and were hoping to be at Katahdin in Maine by mid-August.  They asked me about my journey and I shared with them, David and Stu about Nathan and Bennett and Hike4Hope, and passed around one of the postcards that Phyllis had made.  The thru hikers returned to their sites and Stu, David and I began unpacking for the night.  Once settled, we continued to chat cordially about various topics, mostly about family and work.  David and Stu also continued to ask about Hike4Hope and Progeria. We turned in for the evening around 9pm and were all asleep within minutes.

On Sunday morning, I rose with the sun and did my devotions.  I had several hours before Mike and Mark would be joining me for the day, so I thought I'd take my time getting packed up.  David and Stu got up and began packing their things.  Their final destination was in Smith Gap, a short 6 miles from our current position.  Before they departed, they each wished me well with the hike, and in life, and then proceeded to reach into their wallets and each hand me a donation for Hike4Hope.  I was speechless!  With all of the planning and fundraising that was going on back home, I never thought of the trail as a possible avenue to raise awareness or funds.  Yet these two gentlemen whom God put in my path found their spirits stirred by my story enough to make a contribution and perhaps even take my story home with them to their friends and families in Virginia and Washington DC.

This was an absolute WOW moment!  Here I was on my lunch break Saturday afternoon, tears of loneliness and pain streaming as I prayed and meditated on the Word.  Then I start my afternoon hike and encounter these two gentlemen who are friendly and genuine.  We spend one evening together and God takes the ripple effect to another level.  He put them in my path when I needed companionship and encouragement, and as we talked he stirred them to contribute to the cause that I am so passionate about.  It is an encounter that I will never forget, an encounter orchestrated by a loving Father looking out for his children.  It opened my eyes to an even greater mission field, in that as I encounter other hikers from around the world, there is opportunity to spread the awareness about Progeria far beyond borders of states and countries.  There is opportunity to tell Nathan and Bennett's stories to the world, and encourage others to share their stories in their own communities.  God is doing amazing things to help Nathan and Bennett and all of the children in the world who have Progeria.  The ripple effect continues to grow and I feel so privileged to play the small part that I can play.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Path of Least Resistance

In less than 4 days time, I will set out on the Appalachian trail; walking to help find a cure for Nathan and Bennett.  I am absolutely blown away by how God has been working throughout the journey leading up to the hike.  Everything that has happened has served as a constant reminder that I am but a small spoke in the wheel of God's plan.  He is doing amazing things and I am both humbled and honored by his invitation to participate in his plan.  

 At the end of my devotions each morning, I pray and meditate on the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi.  To me, it is the perfect way to start my day.  As I prepare to go out into the world each day, it serves as a reminder that I should strive each day to allow myself to be used by God for His purposes, and it gives me some practical ways in which to do so.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

If I am to live as Jesus lived, then I must also do as Jesus did.  As the Messianic Prophecy explains in Isaiah 61, Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom to the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve - to bestow upon them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  When we open ourselves to the Spirit's leading... when we allow his current to flow through us without resistance... when we allow ourselves to be a channel through which he can work... it is then that we are most likely to be able to see him at work in our lives and in the lives of others around us.  When we're in control, our vision is clouded.  When we give up control his vision is clear.

The danger of opening ourselves to allow the spirit to flow through us unrestricted, is that we might just get what we ask for! If we mean what we say when we ask for the spirit to move and direct us, we have to be ready for some radical directions.  It is easy for us to put limits on the spirit's direction, and I know that I am often guilty of this.  It is easy for me to say, "I want to serve. I'm ready and willing, as long as I don't have to... or as long as I can..."  We don't like to be uncomfortable, but when we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable, to be used the way God wants us to be used, it is then that we can catch a glimpse of his amazing kingdom.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

It all starts with a pebble...

In 17 days, I will begin my 27 day Hike4Hope Journey to raise funds and awareness for Progeria Research in honor of Nathan and Bennett.  As I am making final preparations for the road ahead,  it is very easy for me to feel overwhelmed by the task.  At times, I doubt and ask myself, "What on earth were you thinking?  You don't know the first thing about hiking or backpacking and you're choosing to learn by hiking 250 miles?"  Yes, doubt and negative self talk are often a problem of mine.  In these moments, I find it helpful to step back and remind myself that this whole journey is a journey of faith.  It began with a prayer, a call, and a response; and when I said "yes" to that call, I replaced my agenda with God's agenda.  I trusted that His way is infinitely better than my way, and trust that he has equipped and will continue to equip me for the journey ahead.  A wise friend once shared with me, "When God leads you to the edge of the cliff, trust Him fully and let go, only one of two things will happen, either He'll catch you when you fall, or He'll teach you how to fly!  God closes doors no man can open & God opens doors no man can close..."
As I think back on the past few months, I find an incredible list of the ways that He has been preparing me for this journey.  He gave me many wonderful, passionate, creative and knowledgeable people, who have been absolutely instrumental in making this hike happen.  They have provided an incredible amount of encouragement and support and have also provided resources to help me select gear, determine appropriate distances for each day, have utilized their gifts to help increase public awareness about Progeria and about Nathan and Bennett, and have blanketed everything in prayer. I have been truly blessed by the people who have come along beside me to help me complete this mission.

One of my hopes from this hike is that there will be a ripple effect; that others will also be open and willing to answer as Samuel did, when they hear God calling them to action.  The way that this group of people has jumped into action has shown me that it is possible for this ripple effect to happen.  In fact, I would say that it's already begun.  I was not the original catalyst.  I am merely one small part in the ripple effect.  The catalyst to me came in the words of and through the relationships with my dear sisters in Christ on a women's retreat last October.  Each one of them may be able to tell you that the catalyst for them, came from somewhere else.  The pebble has been cast and now the endless waves of ripples have begun to spread across the water's surface.  

 Something that has always amazed me about ripples on the water's surface is the briefness of the catalyst that causes them.  One instant, one moment, a fraction of a second; that's all the time that a pebble is visible.  In the time it takes to blink, the pebble has disappeared beneath the surface and can no longer be seen.  We are left instead only with the evidence that the pebble at one, perhaps undeterminable, time broke the surface of the water.  The ripples are all that remains of the pebble, but the energy from the ripples also prove it's existence.  They move out, always away from the pebble, but at the same time point to where the pebble first struck the surface of the water.  Without the pebble being cast in the first place the ripples would not exist.  

Now, if you will, imagine that each one of us is a pebble, placed on this earth for a specific reason at a specific time.  The energy in the ripples that each one of us creates in the world around us, has tremendous power.  Those ripples have the ability to continue on into eternity.  Just look at the pebble that Jesus cast.  He was on this earth for only a short 33 years before disappearing below the surface of the water, but over two thousand years later, the ripples that went out from his pebble are still moving outward and changing the lives of countless people every minute of every day.  What if we all saw ourselves as pebbles?  What if we embraced the ripple effect and realized that everything we do has an effect, good or bad, on those around us?  What if we embraced the power in that ripple effect and channeled that power to change the world? 

I think that that's what Christ might have had in mind when he gave the great commission.  Twelve ordinary men altered the course of history and showed us the window to the Kingdom of God that Christ himself revealed.  They realized that if they could show the truth to a couple of people at a time, then God could take those people and use them to show another group, and another...  The ripples caused by the apostles, are still moving out from their pebbles, long after they slipped below the surface of the water.  The fact that the ripples that we create continue on after we depart from this life, encourages me to remember that I may never see the full effect of the ripples that I create.  I may be fortunate enough to see a small ripple effect, but it is possible and maybe even probable that I will never see the full ripple effect.  It gives me great pause and makes me think about the type of ripples of which I will be the catalyst.  Will the ripples that move out from my life help to build the Kingdom or destroy it?  Will I use my words and deeds in this life to point back to Christ, continuing the ripple effect that He started thousands of years ago?  

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of the individual.  I often times find myself wondering if it really is possible for a single individual to make a difference in this world.  When I consider the ripple effect, I see that, yes, it is possible for one individual to make a difference.  Each person's ripples begin in their immediate communities and spread from there, through the lives of the other people that they interact with.  So, "let your light shine before all peoples, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).  I encourage you to embrace the ripple effect that your life has on those around you.  Let us channel the power of the ripple effect and use it to bring about the Kingdom of God.  

It all starts with a pebble...